EYES WIDE SHUT Manulla’s Rian O’Connor (left) and Westport’s Darren Browne compete for possession during last Sunday’s FAI Junior Cup clash at United Park. Pic: John Corless
Westport United 1
Byrne 29, O’Connor 90+2
A GOAL in injury-time from Manulla centre-back Rian O’Connor surprisingly knocked Westport United out of the FAI Junior Cup last Sunday morning.
This was an amazing result for Manulla, considering they couldn’t field a team against Ballina Town in the Calor Gas Super Cup a fortnight ago after the departure of their manager and four of their key players.
“We have finally got a crew together that want to play for the club,” new manager Walter Barrett told The Mayo News after the game.
“We’re going to stick with these lads going forward.”
Barrett’s reference to sticking with the players he had available on Sunday might signal a change in policy at the central Mayo club, that, in the past, has been quick to sign players from outside their immediate catchment area.
Either way, this was an energetic and committed performance from Manulla. They were the better team over the ninety-plus minutes, and deserved their win.
The result is hard on Westport United.
Joint-managers Dave Hoban, Phil Keegan and Joe Lawless have brought through a great crop of youngsters this season – six of whom started on Sunday – and while the result didn’t go their way, these players have another match under their belt and will benefit from the experience.
On any other day the running and passing of these young players, blended with the experience of Irish-international goalkeeper Gary Cunningham with Joe Lawless, Cillian McGlade and Mark McDonagh at the back, and Darren Browne up front, would have been enough to dispose of any other Mayo side.
But Manulla were on a mission.
The players who took the field were anxious to impress their new management team and prove that there is still life in the club. The challenge now for Barrett will be to get that commitment week-in week-out, through the winter in the cups and, more importantly, next season, in the league.
Manulla started the brightest and dominated most of the first half.
They were hungrier, and with their direct style of play, they contested every ball. Westport played with three at the back, using the excellent Harrison Quinn and Dylan Duane as wing backs. Lawless was busy in the middle of the defence but, as usual, didn’t put a foot wrong. The Manulla strikeforce of Gerry Canavan and Alan Brennan had a few half chances early on but couldn’t make the breakthrough. When man-of-the-match, Darragh Byrne, lobbed Cunningham in the 29th minute everyone in the ground seemed to think the ball went over, but referee John Mulroe was sharp as ever and pointed to the centre-circle.
Westport fought back but were unable to get on terms before the break.
The homeside were brighter in the second-half, but Manulla dug in and it looked like Byrne’s goal would win it.
Then, with fourteen minutes remaining a Westport break saw a brilliant pass from Seán Heaney put Darren Browne through, and the big striker expertly stroked the ball past Jack Livingstone in the Manulla goal to level it.
Westport piled on the pressure in search of a winner, but Manulla held out. Then, with the game in stoppage time and extra-time looming, Manulla were awarded a free-kick just inside their host’s half. Alan Brennan’s free-kick found Rian O’Connor whose excellent header beat Cunningham to win it for the visitors.
Manulla were good all over the park. Lorcan Conroy, especially, on the wing, was excellent. He has played in numerous positions for Manulla this year and he seemed more at home in this role – his best performance of the season. Darragh Byrne was the outstanding performer – leading by example – having taken over from the departed Andrew Shally as captain.
Quinn and Duane ran themselves into the ground for Westport. Seán Heaney and Cillian White gave a good account of themselves in the middle and Kevin Kitterick and Adam Nugent were unlucky not to score on a few occasions.
“I’m delighted with the result,” Walter Barrett told The Mayo News. “I enjoyed my first outing as manager. We were very good in patches but we have a lot of things to work on too. Westport are a fabulous team and there was only a kick of the ball in it.”
Darragh Byrne said that the new management had transformed the side with players coming back in. “I think lads realised what we needed to do, to be competing against teams like Westport,” he said. “This attitude has to stay now. We know what we have to do.”
G Cunningham, H Quinn, C McGlade, J Lawless, M McDonagh, D Duane, C White, S Heaney, D Browne, A Nugent, K Kitterick.
Subs: T Horan, P Folan, J Murphy.
J Livingstone, C Mannion, R Henry, R O’Connor, C Walsh, S Corcoran, C Benson, D Byrne, A Brennan, G Canavan, L Conroy.
Sub: L Timmis.
Referee: J Mulroe